Beckerman, J., Gray, T. (2014). The sonic boom: How sound transforms the way we think, feel, and buy. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
We react faster to sound than to any other sensory stimuli. Not by much, especially relative to touch and sight (placing 2nd & 3rd in the sense race). But composer and Sonic Boom author Joel Beckerman cites this science to argue why some companies knowingly offer ongoing (and profitable) “boom” moments for their customers, while other companies spend millions exclusively on visual ads while ignoring the importance of sound in fostering a great customer experience.
Beckerman is the founder of Man Made Music, a company specializing in sonic branding. He and co-author Tyler Gray waste no time in regaling the reader with corporate stories where sound played an important part in a company’s success – whether the customer realized it or not!
The art of successfully utilizing sound as a marketing tool is to make it speak for the brand. The authors offer diverse examples: Why do kids run past a home freezer that might be stocked with Ben & Jerry’s to beg for money and chase the jingle-playing Mr. Softee ice cream truck? Mr. Softee founder Jim Conway knows: because “going to the fridge isn’t an experience”. A more high-tech example? If it wasn’t for devoted Apple employee Jim Reekes, that big, comforting two-hands-on-the-synthesizer-keyboard C-major chord that announces your Mac is ready would have been a harsh tritone – historically known as the “devil’s interval”. For my non-musician readers, ask a musician pal to simultaneously hit C with the F# above it. Sonic
agony! Many of Reekes’ coworkers didn’t understand the big deal, but at this point in the book, the term “earcon” is introduced – the sonic version of the icon or logo. And that big, warm C-chord is as experientially important to Apple as the visual design lines and screen graphics of your MacBook Air.
Some of Sonic Boom’s marketing and customer experience claims would seem to be common sense: customers spent significantly more on food & drink in a restaurant when slower tempo music is playing; supermarket sales are up 38% when the stores opt for the same. Simply, when you’re aroused by music, you’re less likely to take time to shop, and your extra money walks out the door with you. But the authors challenge businesses to take sound to a new creative level: Why not pump in college or NFL game sounds in the chip, dip, and beer sections of the supermarket? Salsa music in the aisles lined with tamales and frijoles negros? Pair sounds with the store’s visuals and aromas, and transform a domestic chore into a trip to a theme park!
On a larger scale, the authors believe in the creation of brand anthems, not jingles. Think the Star Wars and James Bond franchises: each has an anthem that can be sonically related with both a few notes AND a cinematic orchestra.
On a smaller scale, a business owner needs to devote some serious planning on their soundscape. How do you want people to feel when they hear your sonic brand? What music does your competition play in their stores? Rather than go with the most recognizable tunes by a customer-friendly band, maybe go with deeper cuts. But as the authors note, “make sure it sounds like YOUR party, and not someone else’s.”
In any case, the authors advise that it’s never too early in a plan to consider your sonic branding – don’t wait until the end of your creative process. Sonic branding should be a consideration from the beginning (where it might even offer some inspiration!).
Finally, it’s ironic that I’m finishing this entry on Martin Luther King Day. Sonic Boom actually cites Dr. King, and recalled how his song-like oratory style yielded its own sonic stamp. He often made reference to and quoted from spiritual music. Indeed, the lyrics from the spiritual Free at Last was the crescendo of his “I Have a Dream” speech. The authors note that “…King might have created history’s most powerful “boom” moment by tapping into the power of a song lyric that instantly conveyed a place in time, a rich history of a specific set of disenfranchised people and hope for their future”.
Find out more about Joel Beckerman and to try out his Interactive Experience here: